Restoring Your Reflection

“You weren’t an accident. You weren’t mass produced. You aren’t an assembly-line product. You were deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on the Earth by the Master Craftsman.”
– Max Lucado

Mirrors
Do you dread seeing yourself in them?
Do you see every clothing flaw, facial flaw, and body flaw?
Mirrors reflect what others see.

Have you ever stood in front of a mirror, staring at your reflection, thinking deeper thoughts? Thoughts of, once again, you must look how others want you to look? You put on the correct clothes, the correct facial expressions, the correct personality, the correct… everything.

At the end of the day, when we relook at ourselves in the mirror, we see someone we hardly recognize. It is as if someone shattered our mirror, and we only see bits and pieces of the original us. The image is distorted into an image we fake. Anything different and we are forced to change our look, our thoughts, our opinions, and our lives.

How many of us step into church feeling like we are going scream from behind a mask that isn’t us? We are silenced by the shattered mirror telling us who we should be, how we should act, and what we should believe. Inside, the tension grows tightening a noose of a facade around our neck.

Our reflection becomes the artwork of someone else. Their lines, their colors, and their way of sculpting. We want to break free of that. We want our reflection restored to who God made us to be. Yet, fear binds our hands and gags our mouths from yelling, “Stop!”No longer the wonderful piece of art God formed us to be, but we have become made into a reproduction to look like every other Christian around us.

Is it time we fix the mirror broken by men, and restore the reflection God made for you to see and take joy in?

The God of Harmonious Aesthetic

When we think of the word “harmonious,” we think of things of separate likeness working together to form a beautiful work. Think of the various voice parts in a choir. Separately, the voice parts seem to not work together. But when sung together, a composition lifting the soul to the heavens sings in our ears reverberating off the walls of our mind. What comes to mind when we think of harmony? A piece of art? An architecture project?

What about the life of a person?

God designed us each uniquely. Psalm 139:14-16 assures us we are each made uniquely by the God of creation. He formed each part of us – the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. He planned each step for us. Psalm 37:23 promises that God knows every detail of our life, and he delights in it. He delights over every detail like an artist smiling at a canvas as each paint stroke colors a new part of a masterpiece.

Each of us are uniquely made in order to be apart of God’s harmonious aesthetic – the Church.

I Corinthians 12:12-27 is God’s masterpiece. He takes people of all walks of life (I Corinthians 6:9-11). He takes every person who accepts him, and he places them in the Church. He does not compare the church to an assembly-line product. No, God compares it to a human body. Each human body is formed with different parts – eyes, nose, mouth, feet, toes, kneecaps, finger nails, ears, genitals, ankles, back, ribs, lungs, etc. These parts look different and act differently from each other. Yet when put together, they form a human being.

Not everyone will be an eye or an ear. But, every Christian is apart of the body of Christ using their uniqueness to bring harmony to God’s church.

The Clone War

However, has this harmony been sung in the church or are we all forced to sing a certain melody? A group singing a melody can be beautiful to hear, but there is depth to singers harmonizing with each other.

“Stay in your place. You are better seen and not heard.” “You need to fit in better. If you want to be taken serious, then you need to act like everyone else.” Have we heard some of these reproaches or things similar by people in hushed tones? Have we been shamed by our thoughts, the way God is leading us, the actions we take, the way we live for God, because they do not fit in with the Christians around us?

Essentially we have been saying, “You are not an ear like us. You do not belong unless you are like us.” Our hearts become discouraged, and the burden of shame forces us to wear a mask and play a role made in man’s image.

The clone war is not biblical! Throughout Scripture, God uses many people with different personalities, skills, gifts, thoughts, and roles in order to bring about his masterpiece of redemption – Esther, Daniel, David, Deborah, Tabitha, Paul, Peter, Moses, Miriam, Gideon, Samson, Mary, Sarah, Noah, Ruth, Rahab, Boaz, Samuel, Habbakuk, Stephen, Timothy, John, etc. The list is endless. Sure, each one had faults, and they were not perfect. Yet, look at their various personalities and roles they played. God uses a variety of people. They lived their true reflection of God’s person, place, and purpose – his gift to them.

God does not want a clone army of Christians. He wants a body.

Your True Reflection

Who are you? How do you define yourself? Do you define yourself by rules, standards, an image created by man? Does your worth as a Christian come from how well you conform to rules or follow an image? When we find our worth in those things, we are allowing man to smash the reflection God created us to have. We are then forced to look at ourselves in distorted shards.

Jeremiah 1:4-5 reveals the wondrous mind of God. He gives everyone a purpose. Yet, Jeremiah protests out of fear – Jeremiah 1:6-8. He did not want to be different. He was fearful of what others would say. Sound like another person? Moses? Exodus 4:10-12 tells how Moses did not want to go, because he was… and gave every excuse. God responds with, “It is ok to be fearful. I do not want you to stick out and be ridiculed and shunned by your people. I will find someone else.” No, God reminds Moses who the true Creator of man is. It is in this truth Moses is able to live the plan God wrote.

We are made in God’s image. A Christian is made in the likeness of Christ. The fear of man can only rule in our hearts when we forget our true image. God created you with the interests, thoughts, and opinions he designed you to have. You are not a freak among the normal. Trying to answer the question, “What is normal?” is like trying to answer, “Is water wet?” It will only lead to lightheaded dizziness.

Search God’s heart – his Word. Listen to the Spirit. It is more difficult to follow the Spirit’s leading than to conform to man’s image. You must ask yourself, “Who am I letting control my narrative? Man or God? Who is my true Creator?”

It is only then a courageous fire will burn in you to have the bravery of Esther, the spunk of Paul, the determination of Daniel, the persistence of Peter, and the creativity of David.

Your reflection is made whole when we go back to our Creator. Look at who he made you to be and the way you think. You can only fulfill the role he crafted for you. You have no fear to conceal or hide. The fear of man brings a snare, but those who trust in the Lord will be like a tree planted by the waters blossoming for all to see (Proverbs 29:25; Psalm 1:2-3).

Your reflection is not found in the image of man. Your true reflection is found in your Creator and Savior.

The Restoration

A historical home is a typical place we hear the term, “restoration.” It means someone is returning the building to its original look and feel. The restorer goes back to the original blueprints to craft the process.

We are the same. In order to restore our reflection, we must go back to God’s original blueprints – his Word. We no longer have to lament with Mulan, “Who is that girl I see staring straight back at me? When will my reflection show who I am inside?” Our reflection can show the world who God intended us to be – his redeemed masterpiece. All it takes is to reject the image of man and to cling to the image of Christ God is working in us.

Sure, you feel like the elephant in the room. But, do you know elephants symbolize strength, courage, and confidence. When an elephant is sick, the others will surround the one until fully healed and, once again, apart of the pack. We are all elephants in the room. We stick out. Yet, Scripture shows us time and time again strength, courage, and confidence in the lives of those who came before us. They are surrounding us, cheering us on, giving strength to our courage to be who God called us to be and to run the race God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

Think about this scene from Legally BlondeWatch Scene

You have your personality, your interest, your thoughts, and your life for a reason. God gave it to you. You were born and are living for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). You may feel like Elle Woods, but God isn’t done with your story. He is going to use you. Your “oddities” will be the pieces God uses to stun the world (I Corinthians 1:26-31).

So, don’t go speechless into that goodnight of who God made you to be. Look at the pieces of your story, your person, your place, and your purpose. Take them and build a mosaic living for Christ. You are apart of God’s harmonious aesthetic. He takes delight in every part of your life.

Look to him to restore your reflection. You are beautiful and loved in his sight. Live for him and love with with all your heart, mind, and soul – just like he created you to do.

Resting In Lothlórien

“Faith is to rest, not in the best of God’s servants, but in His unchanging Word.”
– Harry Ironside

Have you ever felt defeated? A loss left your soul sinking? A discouragement drained your energy? Your heart is heavy. Your mind is burdened. Images and thoughts paralyze you, and your whole body wants to crumble to the ground. The outside world may see us as happy and fine, but inside we break down in sorrow. Our hope burns out in the furnace of our soul like coals losing their fire.

Will we find rejuvenating rest for our restless worries? Will we find a place for healing for our hopeless hearts? Most of us are weary from hearing I Peter 5:7. Casting our cares on God and nailing our hurts to the cross has become more of a t-shirt slogan than truth for healing.

How can we actually rest and find healing before we continue in the journey God has for us?

Let’s look at a great example from The Lord of the Rings. The fellowship, on their way to Mordor to destroy the Ring, passed through the Mines of Moria. Here, Gandalf (the wizard) battles the Balrog (an evil creature from the depths). The battle is epic, but ends in tears – Watch the Scene Here

Our hearts groan with the characters as Gandalf perishes, and the only action the fellowship can do is lament and morn. They are out in the open, vulnerable, and defenseless. However, Aragorn and Legolas lead them to Lothlórien (a place of the elves) for rest and protection. Lothlórien is watched over by Galadriel.

But, what is Lothlórien? What is special about this place? It is described in the musical adaptation of The Lord of the RingsWatch Scene Here. How is Lothlórien described? What is promised by Galadriel?

We yearn for a place like that. Our soul thirsts for the promises of Lothlórien.

Yet, we already we have our Lothlórien.

Here You Will Ever Belong

Galadriel refers to weary travelers seeking rest as “Son of my yearning” and “Daughter of hope.” These two titles fills us with the same love we long for. We want to be yearned for and to be filled with hope.

God refers to us in similar terms. Romans 8:15-16 declares us as God’s sons and daughters, children, and heirs of Christ. He yearned for us to be his children enfolded in his arms even when we reject him (Matthew 23:37). In his love, he took our death to give us hope (Romans 5:1-8). We are his children of his yearning, and we are his children of hope.

Our earthly families may disown us, and we become displaced. However, with Jesus, we have a place we will ever belong. Psalm 27 promises, even if we feel like wanderers, a place of safety and love with God. We may wander, but, with being the children of God through Jesus, we are never lost.

You are God’s beautiful child of his song (Zephaniah 3:17).

Although Storms May Descend

Although we are claimed by Jesus, we are not promised a life of green meadows and peaceful streams. Snakes slither in the grass. Water turns tumultuous. The sun withers the soft, green grass into prickly, brown bramble. Jesus directly states we will suffer in this world (John 16:33). But, Jesus promises peace. It is not a peace of a lotus position. It is a peace which will go beyond our comprehension, and nestles deep in our souls (Philippians 4:7).

He knows the storms which descend on our fragility. It may be rejection. It may be an illness. It may be the fear of a new chapter of life. What storm rocks your mental and emotional stability? What anxiety causes your feet to grip for stability on the rocking ship deck tossed by the waves? We fear the storm, and we forget Jesus is in the boat and on the waves (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 14:22-23).

His presence invites us to go to him with our worry so he can calm the waves. His outreached hand steadies us as we step out of the boat onto the waves as he journeys with us through the storm.

Although storms may descend and mountains may quake, Jesus stands with us bestowing rest and peace as he promised (Matthew 11:28-29).

Before The Wind And Fire I Stand

We may have a name and peace, but we still struggle to stand in our battles. Our knees buckle under the weight we endure. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps does not work. The straps of our self-determination rip, and back in the dust we collapse. Frustrated tears dirty our cheeks.

Our tears are misplaced.

Frustration is anger at our lack of self-strength. We were never meant to walk the Christian life on our own. Rule following and image keeping will not be a buttress before windstorms and fire. Our efforts to calm storms in our own strength will only leave us with fearful and faithless frustration (Matthew 8:26).

Instead, God promises he will stand and walk with us through the fire and the wind (Isaiah 43:2). He stands before the wind and fire. He walks through the storm leading the way. He is the stability we need as we move forward.

The fire and wind may be a situation. It may be people. It may be misjudgments about you. It may be slander. Fire may seek to burn us alive as we walk through it, but Jesus walks with us. We may be singed, but we are not destroyed (II Corinthians 4:8-9).

Jesus stands before our fires and winds embracing us in his arms.

Resting In The Garden Of Wonder

Lothlórien is called the Garden Wonder. The fellowship is invited to rest here before the journey continues. Each promise of Lothlórien is found in Scripture. Yet, Lothlórien was not the final destination for the fellowship. It was not the end of their quest. It was a Place of Not Yet. Galadriel promises rest, safety, and revitalizing courage to press on to Mordor. Fear of orcs and enemies clouded the minds of the fellowship, yet they could only fully rest when they gave up control to the one who promised.

It is the same with us. We are in the Place of Not Yet. Discouragement, fear, and sorrow clouds our minds. Yet, God has given us our Lothlórien – our personal time with him. When we spend time in his words and in his presence, we boldly walk into the Lothlórien he created for us (Hebrews 4:15-16). It is not the will power of believing his promises which give us rest. It is only when we surrender our strivings we will receive the rest and peace promised.

Surrender is how we live in the promises of God. Memorizing the promises and quoting them in our heads will do no good until we surrender to them. We need to become Peter. We cannot just agree with God his promises are true. We must step out of the boat and experience their reality. Surrender brings about beauty. We no longer look at the shadows and storms. Instead, the world becomes the garden of wonder watercolored by the paintbrush of God (Romans 1:9-20). We are without excuse when we can’t see the wonder of life God has given us. He has plainly shown us his paint strokes in creation, his fingerprints in our lives, and his threads weaving a tapestry of beauty telling our story.

Give up the energy of forcing God’s promises to happen. They will happen whether you want or not. Following the Holy Spirt is more difficult than following a list of rules. Surrender, and you will rest in the Lothlórien God has given to us found in his presence through his Word, prayer, and following the Spirit. Wipe the frustrated tears from your eyes and behold the wondrous provision of God to move you where he wants you.

Lothlórien is our place to rest before we continue. It is a place to surrender to God’s promises. His promises provides the strength to spark our courage into a flame lighting the path he creates specifically for each person (Psalm 139:13-16).

Breathe. Wipe the tears from your eyes. Surrender your lists and self-determination to God. Then he will take your face in his hands and with a gentle authority in his voice will say, “For your days that remain, this is the promise I make enfolded in my arms.”

The Place of Not Yet

“Always we begin again.” – St. Benedict

Ever looked back on a year and only saw how you didn’t change?
Ever looked back and saw how your failings were much greater than your change?
Ever only see your struggle and never your progress?
Ever see your dream disappearing in the midst as the sunrise of failure rises?

We all live in the place of what happened. We see ourselves as citizens of the place of the past. Our present being is tattooed with the scars of that place. Everyday we scour our closets for anything to cover up the past and prove to the world we have changed – a smile, an action, a better habit, etc. Yet, the markings of the place of what happened remain. Our life’s passport seems to be stamped with the many visits to that place.

Aren’t we tired of being known by what happened and our failures? Our neck must be exhausted as we have bent it to the ground in order to avoid the condemning looks of others. Our mind has done more character acting than Carol Burnett in order to pretend we are “fine.”

What if we could move into a new place – the place of not yet.

This Strange New Land

If you have ever seen or read The Chronicles of Narnia, you will notice the first remarks of the children upon entering Narnia are of how strange the land looks and feels. How fitting are those comments as we look at our own lives. We also have entered a strange land, but we stand in the liminal space between our old world and the new – our old selves and the new creation we are in Christ. We comment and elaborate on the new creation before us, but hardly do we leave the space between the worlds.

Why? We fear others. Others know our struggles, our pasts, our scars. We feel those things draw the unwanted attention of others like The One Ring draws the Ringwraiths to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. We do not sing of the new creation as much as we sing of our past. Yet, Psalm 33:1-5 tells us to sing with joy (not in solemn, stoic scores). Why? It is because the word of God is true and shows us the unfailing love of God. His word shows us the joy of leaving the place of the old and stepping into the new creation, and living in the place of not yet.

II Corinthians 5:17 declares Christ, through himself, has made all things new. The old has passed away like the night retreating into the depths of the earth as the sun rises bringing warmth and light to a wakening world. He freely gives new life. As Jesus talked to the woman at the well, he promised living water springing up into life (John 4:13-14). How can Jesus promise a new life to us who have scars of the past and are haunted by the ghosts of guilt? It is found in Colossians 1:15-22. Our new life is sealed with the proof of promise, because Jesus is the first born from the dead. His resurrection floods the world with the new life he promises.

This new life is strange. Yet, as Jesus did with Peter inviting him onto the wild waves, Jesus is calling us to leave the liminal space and step into the new creation he has called us to be – to step into the place of not yet.

The Wide Invitation

Many of us have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, but we still live in the place of what happened. We see the promise of a new life, a new beginning, a new way of seeing the world around us, and we secretly scoff at it. That place we have always dreamt of seems like a fairytale. Eventually it will end, and our happy endings will darken back into the grim existence we have known.

However, the invitation Jesus gives us into the place of not yet is wide. Matthew 22:1-10 illustrated the breadth of the recipients. The king, in the parable, tells his servants to invite everyone they come across – both the good and evil. Most of the time, we consider ourselves to be on the evil side. Yet, who calls us evil? Do we hold our goodness to the standards of men or God? God wants everyone to be invited to this new life no matter their background or past. All we need to do is RSVP and accept the new life Jesus freely gives us to wear.

God knows who we are. He looks down from heaven. He sees our hearts. He understands us deeply, because he was the one who made our hearts (Psalm 33:13-15). He understands me. He knows all the desires of my heart, because he made me with those desires. He knows sin has twisted those desires. But, his wide invitation to me is a call to see those desires as he had made them and to step into a life that runs in grace after the desires God has given me.

Being Still in the Place of Not Yet

What is the place of not yet? It is the place God is calling us to. It is the moment of the morning where we step into a new day with the past chasing us and the sea of the unknown before us. It is the place where we give ourselves grace as we look to the pillar of fire and be still as God leads us. It is the place we allow ourselves to see God work.

Moses experienced the place of not yet in Exodus 14. The Israelites came to the Red Sea. Their journey came to a halt. Their ears forced their eyes to look back as their past chased after them to claim lives. Moses did not know what to do. He looked to God, and God told him to be still and see the Lord work. Moses stepped into the place of not yet. He gave himself the grace to trust God. Waters split, and the people stepped into the place God called them to be – walking through the middle of the sea. Watch the scene from The Prince of Egypt

The place of not yet is not the destination. It is the place where we know God is moving and shaping us. It is the place where when people ask us, “So, is God done with you?” we respond, “Not yet.” Our story is still being written. The place of not yet is where we give ourselves the grace and space to let God work. We do not constrain ourselves to the opinions of others. Instead, we say, “Not yet,” as God works and our hearts fill with wonder as the next page opens into a new chapter.

Stepping and Resting into a New Place

The place of not yet is a place of beginning. It is a place which gives us the boldness to go before God’s throne to find grace and mercy to begin again (Hebrews 4:15-16). Because Jesus understands our lives, hearts, and struggles, he opens the door to the place of not yet so we may have the grace to always begin again. It is a place of grace to grow and to be shaped.

“Beginning again is permission to be unaccomplished, to be a beginner, to be brand new. More than permission too, a sense that we are right where we should be and that the beginning space is actually a holy space, not just a layover on our way to something better.” – Leeanna Tankersley

The place of not yet is where we can always begin again, because we know God isn’t done with us yet. We know the ending of the story, so we can step and rest in the place of not yet. It is right where God has us. It is a holy place we can thrive in, because it is surrounded by the unfailing love of God as his faithfulness brings the new dawn of a new beginning every day (Lamentations 3:22-24).

As we stand at the precipice of a new year, we think we have two choices – 1) to stay in our past or 2) to strive for that destination of wholeness. Yet, there is a third choice. Are we willing for it to be an option? It is a place where we will need to begin again and again, a place where apologies and forgiveness are asked for more times than we can count, a place where we know God is not done working with us and we can stand to begin again. A new year in that place is better than being haunted by the past or striving for something only God can bring.

It takes faith to step and rest here. Indiana Jones and the last Crusade perfectly illustrates it in this scene – watch here. He couldn’t go back, and he couldn’t leap to the other side. He had to take the path of not yet – the bridge. Each step was small, and he had to give himself grace to get across as he trusted the plan before him.

The place of not yet is one of openness and vulnerability. It will test our faith and expose our lack of faith. We can step into it and rest, because the grace of God is found there. Each day is not a day to beat ourselves up for not being better. Each day is a day to begin again. Each moment is a moment to begin again.

It is in the place of not yet we find the nailed-pierced hand of Christ reaching out to us as his reckless love gifts us the daily grace to always begin again.

Religious Chain-Breaking

“In almost everything that touches our everyday life on earth, God is pleased when we’re pleased. He wills that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our maker’s praise without anxiety.” – A.W. Tozer

In the musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, there is a song of longing. It is a song pleading for freedom from the prison behind pillars to breathing in the air of an abundant life.

Watch Scene Here

Quasimodo sees the the streets bustling with people living their lives outside of his stone prison. He wishes for only one day to be among them.

We all have the same longing. We portray ourselves as free people to those we pass in the hallways of our church. That mask doesn’t portray who we truly are. Secretly and hushed, we are prisoners restrained to religion.

Our hearts scream for freedom as we observe other Christians joyfully living a life for Jesus. Their eyes stream tears at hearing of Christ’s love. They fall, but stand back up and keep going. They yearn for transformative and Spirit-guided prayer. Their time in the Word is marked by passion and love.

Yet, we remain imprisoned inside a “Notre Dame.” It may not be a physical building, but we have erected an enslaving edifice imprisoning what God, through Christ, has set free.

The Anxiety of the Imprisoned

We wake up Sunday morning preparing ourselves for church. We pick out our costume to wear, we shower off the sins of the week, we paint on a smiling face, and we brush away the stink of sin out of our mouth. Our mind maximizes the images of people we will come across – those who greet us, those in ministry, those who sit in the same row, those in our Bible study class, etc. Our goal is clear – be seen as the mature, good Christian who is not looked down on.

We may not say this out loud, but we secretly hoard these thoughts as we put together an image we want those in our church to see.

This pageantry isn’t only played before our peers, it is played before God. Our Bible study consists of finding those “lists.” You know which ones I’m talking about – the “to do” passages. Ephesians 4:17-5:33, Matthew 5-7, Psalm 15, Philippians 4:8, and the whole book of Proverbs have become mind-masters of our actions. We desperately want God to accept us. We crave for the blessings promised in Scripture. We, therefore, take verses like Matthew 5:48 and I Peter 1:14-17 to the extreme. If we want God to love us and bless us, then we must do a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t….

Our fight against sin becomes our fight for God’s acceptance. Our fight for sanctification becomes our fight for an image.

We read and devour theology books, carry the correct study Bible, listen to only specific music, eat at certain places, only watch certain things, associate with only certain people, take the opinions of certain people…. and on and on the list goes as it creates a mountainous migraine whipping us into submission.

The anxiety over our image and actions becomes like a monster who will not die. We are imprisoned by this anxiety, and in our prison our insanity sets in to strangle us.

The Prison Guards Condemned

Where does this mindset come from? It did not originate in our days. It was alive and enslaving people during the time of Jesus.

Mark 12:41-44 paints a scene where rich people came to put money in the offering, but a widow could only put two tiny coins in. We see an attitude in the temple. It is one of presenting a certain image – “Look how much we do for God and how good of a follower of the law we are.” But, this is apart of the spiritual culture during Jesus’ time. It was not the rich or the poor who started it. Then, where does it come from?

Matthew 23:1-32 pulls back the curtain for us. Jesus calls out the religious leaders for abusing God’s Word. They created rules and images for people to follow. But, it lead to only condemnation of the religious leaders from Jesus. Even in the parable told in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus rips off the mask. It is the religious leaders who used and abused God’s Word to put people in a hierarchy based on the following of laws, rules, and traditions.

And the saga continues in our lives. We submit to the prison guards of rule following, image keeping, and tradition upholding. We struggle to keep these things in order to be seen as good before men and God. It is never said from the pulpit or the classroom or the Bible study we believe this. But, we sure act like we believe it and treat other Christians like this is really what it means to be a Christian.

Jesus Fulfilled And You Live

“But, isn’t it right for us to pursue godliness and holiness in our lives?” Why, yes it is. But we have missed the true motive for living for God.

Matthew 5:17 states clearly Jesus came to fulfill the law. He didn’t do it to prove it could be done. He fulfilled the law for you, so you could stop striving to fulfill it yourself. It cannot be done. The law is to show how broken we are. Yet, Christ comes and fulfills it on your behalf. This is what it means to have the righteousness of Christ – we get his credit. We no longer have the duty to fulfill any law or rule. We no longer need to strive for perfection. We have Christ’s.

Ephesians 2:8-10 shows us we do not have an image or a work to be prideful over, because it all comes from Christ. He did this for you and me, because he loves us. It is because of Christ’s reckless love for us we live. We no longer are prisoners to religion, but free to be in a relationship with Jesus. When we live in his love, there is no fear of being rejected or not being accepted (1 John 4:18). We live for Jesus out of his love for us.

We have missed this in our churches. We follow rules and traditions hoping to be “more accepted by God” and be seen as that “good Christian” before others. We do not need more acceptance from God. We have it already because of Jesus. We do not need to parade ourselves like the pharisees as we mask ourselves as the good Christian. Jesus stops the performance. He doesn’t want actors. He wants testimonies of grace to stand up in a courtroom of condemnation.

Free From Religion; Free To Live

“Religion says, ‘I messed up. God is going to kill me. I need to clean up this mess.’ A relationship of freedom with Jesus says, ‘I’ve messed up. Jesus, I need you and that’s all.'”

Our chain, as Christians, isn’ the sin we must get rid of. Jesus already took care of that. It is, in reality, a chain to religion. It is a prison of perpetual rule and tradition keeping. Jesus broke that chain of a haughty holiness to give us a life of love – for him and others. If the greatest commandment is to love God and others, then why are we following rules and traditions? How are those things promoting love?

Recently, I have fully realized how my own life and beliefs were chained to a haughty holiness. I craved to be like others – perfect, no struggles, and always following God. I would read my Bible more, dig down into systematic theologies and other resources to help, I would pray, I attended church, I memorized Scripture. Yet, it imprisoned me more by each passing day. I was going insane with all I needed to do in order to be seen as good enough before people. I hid who I really was (even though it was who God made me to be), because I wanted to look good by someone else’s standard. Then, the light came on. My goodness is not based on a label, a rule I follow, or an image. Because Jesus loves me, he has become my image. He gladly gives me his righteousness out of love expecting nothing in return. I do not have to present myself to him in the right way. He will break down every wall and lie to be with me. That truth causes me to run to him. I love Jesus, because he first loves me. His burden is not a yolk of work, but it is a burden of rest.

What is keeping us in these chains of religion? Is it wanting to have the right theological label on every point? If so, burn your theology books. They have only become an idol. Is it wanting to be seen in a certain light? If so, open up about your struggles. Your self-protection has become your idol.

Religion chains us. There is no freedom in rules and standards. There is only freedom in Christ and experiencing his love.

Our hope is not in the perception we give, or having the correct theological beliefs, or in following standards and rules. Our hope is in Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved (John 3:16). That’s it. Nothing more we can do. When we live loved, our actions will be out of love for God and others. That is true freedom.

The Journey Uncontrolled

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
– John Steinbeck

How many of us have ever wanted to go to a different place than our friends? We wanted to do something else, but they wanted to go a different way.

There are moments in life where we think we want to go a certain direction, but we end up on a different path. It is a path we are scared to journey, but we feel the Holy Spirit guiding. We keep look over our shoulder in the direction we wanted to go, but we end up missing where God is leading us.

Each of us has been there. In fact, we are all on that journey. We want one way, but the compass points the other. We would have never chosen to go down that path. It becomes a journey uncontrolled.

The Unwished Journey

The journey God gives us is usually the one we are most afraid of. In fact, it usually involves something we never wanted or wished for. It might be a circumstance, a struggle, a career change; whatever it is, God placed it in our life. We see the compass arrow point to that one thing. Our heads scream, “God, please, not that!”

Frodo, in The Lord of the Rings, experiences the same thought. The ring is a heavy burden causing destruction physically and mentally. It is something Frodo never wanted to possess or deal with. He never thought he would be on a perilous journey into the heart of evil. Yet, Gandalf speaks a truth which rings in our ears and challenges this thought – Watch Here

“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We agree with the sentiment, but our feet feel glued to the ground unready to act on it. We feel this is uncontrollable. So, we reject it.

However, God says something interesting in Psalm 139:1-16. No matter where we are or where we go, God’s path for our lives is already written. He knows we are afraid of this journey. He already ordained for that situation, that struggle, that experience, and whatever we dare not speak of out loud. We become like Jonah (Jonah 1-2). We run from God’s plan and purposes. We think we’ve escaped facing our fears, but God will redirect us. Our eyes may go to one path, but his compass points us in the direction he deems best.

What is it we fear on this God-given journey? Are we going to be like Jonah – rejecting and fleeing? Or are we going to be like Esther – embracing God’s path, facing our fears, and confidently step into the belief God has us on this path for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)?

The Different Journey

We may accept God’s journey for our life, but don’t we tend to feel ashamed of the secret parts of our story? We see how different our story is, how different our struggles are, and we fear the perceptions of others.

“What if…” pulls our eyes away from God’s path and we look at others. We then only shamefully speculate how different our is. God sees this fear. God chose this path specifically for you (Hebrews 12:1). He set the race before us. When we look at Hebrews 11, don’t we see a portrait gallery of weird perceptions. If we stopped romanticizing biblical stories, we will understand the gravity and absurdity of the journey God put Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and the rest to travel. I’m sure being asked to kill your only son is quite a normal thing for someone who follows God.

Yet, we don’t like being different. We want to be fearfully and wonderfully made as long as it means we fit in. We secretly despise Psalm 139:14 if it means not fitting in as we want. Image is everything. Our image, our path, our life needs to fit an image man has made. Aren’t we called to be made into the image of God? Doesn’t that mean following the path God has called us to? Doesn’t that journey lead to becoming more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29)?

Stop rejecting what we define as different. God does not see it like that. He smiles at the wonderful story he is weaving specially for you.

The Journey in Perspective

Have you ever looked at the biography section at Barnes and Noble? We fawn over the pictures of many people and the lives told with powerful potency. The story unfolds as a familiar fairytale – Cinderella. Our souls are entranced by stories of rags to riches.

“My story will never be like that,” whispers the shadow which follows us. That shadow is stitched together by our guilt. He shames us with painful memories our fallings. It is like crime scene photos graphically portraying the crimes against God and others we have committed in cold blood. We feel unworthy to be even called by God for this journey.

Is it because we need to change perspective? One of the scenes in The Prince of Egypt beautifully boasts the need to change perspective when we feel unworthy – Watch Here

Is the reason we don’t have God’s perspective on our life is because we are too busy comparing ourselves in the church? Do we hide parts of story in order to escape the penetrating perceptions like daggers digging a deep wound of fear? God is not ashamed of you. He is transforming you. You can’t change yourself.

People will call out your sins, your struggles, and your past. But, God calls out the righteousness you have because of Jesus. Being righteous is not about the good deeds we do. It is being right before God which will transform us to be like Christ.

God is not done with you, so you haven’t seen that last of yourself. Our hearts can passionately sing out the words to “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me.” From God’s perspective you will not fade out, and he does not count you out. Instead, he gives you a journey which we call uncontrolled in order to give each of us a story of grace forging us to stand tall in God’s hall of faith.

The Path Walked

We can agree God is actually in control of our lives. We truly believe God ordained the journey before us. We say, “Amen!” to Psalm 139 praising God for fearfully and wonderfully creating us. But, what about that one thing? Didn’t God put that in his story of you? We can amen and agree all we want with the truths of God’s Word, but where does agreement alone get you?

We must accept the journey we can’t control. We must pick up God’s compass, His Spirit through the Word, following the path wherever it goes.

Hebrews 12:1 was quoted earlier. The verse creates images of runners, races, and finish lines found on our journey. We also see the need to get rid of the sin that easily keeps weighed down. But, go back three words – the hinderances. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “lay aside every hinderance and the sin” which keeps us from running. Hinderances are not necessarily sins. It can be mindsets, beliefs, people, influences, or anything which keeps us from fully walking our God-given journey

We find ourselves not following God’s path, because we will not give up our hinderances. We do not want to get rid of the values and beliefs we have been taught even when we discover Scripture doesn’t fully line up with them. We refuse to let go of people whose opinions we follow more religiously than the Bible. We reject the thought of doing anything which would give us a low perception in our churches. This is even more deadly than the sins which hold us back.

Like Moses, we say, “But, God!” Then God reminds us who he is. He is the Creator and tell us to go as he leads. The temptation is to replace his Word and his view of us with the views and words of man. Always go back to Scripture to check if you are following God’s compass.

The journey walked means letting go. It means we proudly Burn The Ships tempting us to turn around and reattach ourselves to those hinderances. God has given us each our own path. He ordained each of us to have certain struggles, be made in certain ways, to have different views and opinions. That is part our journey. We may not have wished for it, we may think it is different, and we may fear the perceptions of others. But, whose opinion really matters?

The journey uncontrolled is actually very much in control. It appears to be uncontrolled because we compare ourselves with others and focus on how others perceive us. When we focus our vision back to God’s compass, we will see how he is in control of the journey. He was in control in the past, he is taking the lead on your path now, and he will be there at the end. He does not change unlike the perceptions of people.

Each step we take on our journey can only be done by faith and not sight (II Corinthians 5:7). We step in faith as we trust the compass. We walk in confidence knowing Jesus gives us the courage and strength to continue when it seems only the darkness of shame trips us and ridicules us. We can sing with David Psalm 27 as we set aside our hinderances and move forward. We can take that first step onto a journey we at first fear (not because of the lack our own will power), because we believe the promise God gives us as eloquently articulated by C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia:

“Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

I Wish

“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
– Alexander Graham Bell

Once upon a time…

These words excite us as we know what type of story we are about to hear. It is a story filled with heroes, villains, far off places filling us with wonder, and wishes.

We all have wishes. Birthday candles are blown out to thoughts of wishes. Christmas time comes with wishes. We lay in bed at night wishing for things to come or things to be changed.

A lot of our wishes feel like beating a locked door till it opens. Our fists pound and pound and pound until it seems like the door will splinter apart. Yet, nothing happens. The door remains closed.

There are things in our lives we see as a closed door to be pounded on until it opens. What are we to do when the door remains closed and our fist begins to bleed from our belligerent pounding?

Stuff I’m Going To Do

In Pixar’s Up, Ellie has a book titled “Our Adventure Book.” Inside are many picture of Ellie growing up, a picture of their house at paradise falls, and a page labeled “Stuff I’m Going To Do.”

Each of us has a desire for something. In our minds, we have a file marked “Stuff I’m Going To Do.” It could be a career, future plans, a relationship, or mending something from the past. God delights in our wishes and desires. He loves to give his children good things

Matthew 7:7-11 is a passage which fills us with awe. Jesus tells us to knock and ask, because it will be given to us. He tells us God is one to give good things. It fills us with joy to think about what God wants to give us.

It is not wrong to ask God for anything. We are told to freely ask. In fact, God wants us to ask our true heart’s desires. He takes pleasure seeing us reveal our hearts to him.

Into The Woods

However, how many of us do not like when a door to our desires is closed and locked? All of us do. We see a closed door, and we begin to knock, then pound, then scream. We want to do anything to get our wish.

We are like the characters in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. The opening scene reveals all the wishes the characters have. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and a baker and his wife have their own desires. Except their wish seems impossible to obtain. (Listen to Into The Woods Prologue here)

Each character realizes what they must do in order to get their wish – they must go into the woods. So, they venture deep into the wood. Each character does get their wish. Yet, they do not receive without consequences. People begin to die, a giant invades, and the path through the woods is lost. At the end of the musical, the witch sings, “Told a little lie/ Stole a little gold/ Broke a little vow/ Did you?/ Had to get your prince/ Had to get your cow/ Had to get your wish/ Doesn’t matter how” (The Last Midnight).

Do we pursue the closed doors like this? We do anything we can in order to open it? Even if it means axing it down?

Saul did the same in I Samuel 28:3-20. He desperately wished to win the war against the Philistines. He pleaded with God to intervene. He prayed, he sought out prophets, he pleaded for dreams; yet, none came. Instead, he took matters into his hands. The closed door will be brought down; even if it meant going against God’s will. He sought out a witch to conjure up the spirit of Samuel. The close door became Saul’s demise.

Similarly, we do the same. We desire something, and God closes the door. Yet, we do anything we can do unlock it, open it, or break it down. Where does that leave us? Sunken on the floor, thoughts in depression, head down, and we refuse to do one thing…

Turning The Page

Near the end of the film Up, Carl is upset their house isn’t where it should be. He is so close to Paradise Falls, but his house settles so close, yet so far. He feels like a failure. He feels he failed his wife. As he sits in his chair, he pulls out her Adventure Book. See what happens – watch the scene here before reading on.

As he flips through the book, disappointment fills Carl’s soul. His heart breaks when he sees the page “Stuff I’m Going To Do.” As he closes the book, the page falls revealing something life-changing. Ellie put in all the photos of them. She saw their life as an adventure (even without going to Paradise Falls). Then on the last page she writes, “Thanks for the adventure – now go have a new one.”

Her wish to go have an adventure at Paradise Falls was Ellie’s closed door. Yet, she realized the open door around her. Her adventure was with Carl.

Our wishes are just like Ellie’s and Carl’s. Most of the time our wishes are for connections with someone. We try to find it in people who don’t want to play those roles or are incapable to. However, we still bang on their doors pleading them to be a brother, father, mother, or friend to us. If we end up breaking down the door, the connection becomes forced. The “adventure” we were looking for turns sour.

We, then, cry out to God claiming he did not fulfill his promise in Psalm 37:4. But, if we step away from the closed door, then we will see he did. God will give us the desires of our hearts. However, it may be with those who are already given to us.

One of the wisest people I know is my wife. She has a saying that is repeated, and rings in my soul. She says, “How long are you going to keep looking to those who are incapable to fulfill the needs you have before you turn to those God has placed in your life who are capable of filling those needs?”

When we refuse to turn the page of our adventure book, we will miss those around us who are fulfilling our wishes and desires. Those who have stepped into roles we long to have. Those who fill that emotional need. Those who draw us closer to God. It is when we look to what God has given us that we can heal the hurts which our desires come from.

The Disappearing Photo

Our wishes do not have to feel like closed doors. God is fulfilling our desires as we follow him. It might not be where we want or with who we want, but look around. God is fulfilling those things. Look up from the closed door, and run into the embrace of those God has given in your life.

However, most of us want to stay at the closed door pounding away. What happens? It is like the scene from Back to the Future. Marty’s parents are at a dance. His dad is dancing with his mom (they don’t know it though). But, another guy tries to steal her away. This simple action causes people in a family photo to begin to disappear. It is not until George runs to Loraine that the picture begins to reappear. (Watch the scene here)

We are the same when it comes to our closed doors. When we continue to focus on the closed door, our fulfilled desires begin to disappear from our lives. It is only when we run to those who God has placed in our lives that our picture begins to be made whole.

All of us have experienced hurt, abuse, and pain which cries our dreams, wishes, and desires. Yet, if we run into the woods to fulfill those things we will only be living in the last midnight full of rejection and lost on our path. But, turn the page. If we look around, then we will see what God is doing. He does give us the desires of our hearts. He does give us good things. He wants our hurts to be healed and our hearts to be mended. He puts people in our lives who may seem like the opposite of you in order to hug you so tight the pieces are put back together. When we look into their eyes, we will see they are the ones God is using to heal us and give us the desires of our hearts.

The question then rests with us: “How long are you going to keep looking to those who are incapable to fulfill the needs you have before you turn to those God has placed in your life who are capable of filling those needs?”

Dedicated to a friend who calls me brother and is a living example of this to me as I heal from my past.

Tabloid Church

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.
– C.S. Lewis

“Jesus Action Figure Heals the Sick”
“Dick Cheney is a Robot”
“Disney Murdered Lindsay Lohan’s Twin”
“Elvis is Alive”
“Cher Removed Ribs to Slim Down”

These are examples of tabloid headlines. A tabloid is a smaller publication than a newspaper, and it usually contains sensational, bizarre, and even laughable news. However, these sell. If we only look at celebrity gossip, we would discover these types of headlines bring in annually $3 billion. It is a lucrative business that can destroy people’s lives or bring them their 15 minutes of fame.

Did you know there is another type of tabloid? It is one that is published word of mouth in the church. We see something, we assume something, and then we can’t help but spin a story better than J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, or J.R.R. Tolkien.

How many of us have had a story spun about us for something found on social media? or a prayer request given based on an assumption? How many of us have seen or overheard something, and then spread a tabloid headline?

Is the church supposed to be this way?

The Mark of the Church

In today’s world, it seems like you cannot go on social media without finding someone claiming the mark of the beast is coming (Revelation 13:16-17). Written is some obscure article mentioning microchips in vaccines or some weird mathematical gymnastic routine leading to 666, and the tabloid article sells to Christians faster than weed in Colorado.

But, there is a different mark we do not talk about. It appears as nice clichés on Christian art passed by unnoticed in the church. It is engraved as “mottos” under a church name. In some form or another, it can be boiled down into two phrases – Love God. Love Others.

Loving God and loving others are the two commandments Christ gave as the greatest (Matthew 22:36-40). In fact, Jesus tells the disciples (and for all Christians) the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35).

Is our creating tabloid headlines about each other loving?

The Paparazzi and the Pharisees

The ones who go after celebrities, attempting to photograph them, and sell their stories are called paparazzi. Their mission is to discover and dig up these stories and sell them to whoever will listen. Usually, these stories do not portray people in a good light. Tabloids contain stories of scandals, so we at home can say, “Wow, I am glad my life isn’t like that.” Tabloids, also, contain stories to cause us to say, “Wow, I wish I was like that.”

The paparazzi can be compared to the pharisees. They knew everything about everyone. The pharisees know everything. They handled themselves with great care. Before someone could ever accuse them, they were quick to accuse others (John 8:1-11). Sinners had to be exposed, and the pharisees were there to catch the story. But, sometimes the story published was about how good the pharisees were (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus even pointed out how the Pharisees behaved in order to create this good exterior (Matthew 23:1-36). However, this wasn’t a tabloid story Jesus was giving. Instead, Jesus condemned them for their behavior.

The pharisees were like the paparazzi. They were quick to find those scandalous stories, and promote the good stories of themselves. Their goal was simple – “Look at how awful those people are, and look at how good I am.” Quite similar. The problem for the pharisees was Jesus. He kept interrupting their tabloid business and control over the people.

Are the paparazzi and the pharisees marked by love? No. To even consider a tabloid heading to be loving is laughable. Therefore, is it loving for us to create stories of people in the church in order to create a sensational headline? Or are we just like the pharisees? We want to know everything, judge everyone by our standards, and make sure we look good. It doesn’t seem that black and white to us. Instead, we mask our tabloid-triggered mind by our concerns and our prayer requests.

An Abused Verse

I Thessalonians 5:22 states, “Stay away from every kind of evil.” It can be rendered in many different ways – “Flee from all appearances of evil, “Do not associate yourself with any appearance of evil,” etc.

We have all heard this verse. We have probably been told we have done something which crosses this verse. But, has this verse been abused in how we judge the actions of others?

I Thessalonians 5:12-28 gives us the context. There is not much in declaring what is “every kind of evil.” However, we do see a common thread of doctrine in this passage. One kind of evil would be those who preach a gospel contrary to the message of Christ (Galatians 1:6-10). We, also, see that we need to treat people with goodness and not evil (I Thessalonians 5:15). Since this letter is first written to a church, Paul is stating we need to be kind to our brothers and sisters first, and then to the world (Ephesians 4:32; Philippians 2:1-15).

But, there is a “kind of evil” we like to focus on more than the ones mentioned in the passage. It is usually marked by something which makes us uncomfortable. It is what we would call evil by our preferences. Now, I am not saying we exchange what God says is evil and call it good. But, we need to be careful how far we take I Thessalonians 5:22.

We may look at a married couple, who belong to our church, enjoying a glass of wine together. Our minds may quickly jump to this passage telling this couple to stop and stay away from all kinds of evil. However, does God’s word say it is evil to drink? It says do not be drunk (Ephesians 5:18). Proverbs, in many places, tells us to be careful when around those who are drunk and being led astray by them (Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:20). But, don’t we jump to the conclusion that any type of drinking is a sin, and therefore must be avoided at all cost? Is that biblical thinking? What about the Christian in our church who has a tattoo? Don’t we secretly tell our kids to stay away from him, because we want them to avoid all kinds of evil? There are many more examples of this. But, is this biblical thinking to deem anything we are uncomfortable with as evil when Scripture is actually silent about it or gives general principles?

We have abused one verse while ignoring one very key passage: Romans 14. Here, Paul states very clearly that Christians will live their lives differently. They will read Scripture and apply it to their lives in the ways the Holy Spirit guides them. Then, Paul reminds us with the law of liberty comes the law of love. We need to love each other and prefer each other with how we live our Christian walk. We do not want to cause a stumbling block or an obstacle for someone in their faith.

“Yes, this is why that Christian should stop what they are doing. They are making me uncomfortable.” We are quick to say something similar, aren’t we? We want every Christian around us to love us by conforming to how we live the Christian life. Is that loving? In an age of technology and social media, it is difficult to avoid seeing the private lives of those in our churches. We see something, we make an assumption, and then we create the headline. Is that living in the law of love? The law of bondage extinguishes the holy flame of freedom. The law of love creates an environment of discussion and understanding in order to love each other. The law of love follows a basic principle of Matthew 18:15-20 – talking to each other rather than about each other.

The Law of Love in Action

So, how should the law of love look in our churches? Good thing there is a passage on that – I Corinthians 13.

Paul tells us the church needs to be marked by love and his statement echoes that of Christ’s in John 13:34-35.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love does not look for a scandal or something wrong. It does not assume the worst about our brother or sister Instead, it sees the best and believes the truth. Love does not have a suspicious mind. Love seeks to understand, and love is willing to agree to disagree when it comes to the law of freedom. Love does not unite over things we are against. Love unites over our savior: Jesus Christ.

Creating tabloid headlines does not live out the law of love. In fact, its very contrary to what the church is to be marked by. Tabloid headlines divide the church. It creates an image we have to uphold in order to be seen as a good Christian; instead of letting Christ be our good.

Have You Heard?

The Christmas before my wife and I married, I spent the holiday with my future in-laws. It was a wonderful time together. My mother in-law bought my wife (then fiancée) and I matching pajamas. She smiled so big when we opened that gift. She asked us to try them on. We did, and it brought joy to her. She took a picture and posted it on Facebook as a celebration to the memories we made. However, when I returned to my home church, I heard a tabloid headline. “He and his fiancée are wearing matching pajamas. Therefore, they must have slept together before being married!” I’m serious about this. It got so bad, I removed the picture from my profile.

You may laugh at this situation, but it happens to a lot of people in the church. We see something, we assume something, and we create that sensational story. Is that being loving? Is that living out the law of love? Where in I Corinthians 13 are we to be suspicious of other believers? Where does it say we get to be the judge, jury, and executioner of how one Christian lives for Jesus differently than another? James 4:11-12 states when we judge others we place ourselves back into a law of works rather than the law of freedom and love. Essentially, we put each other back into the bondage of slavery to laws (Galatians 5:1-15). As a result, we bite and devour one another like piranhas as we criticize each other by our standards and not God’s (Galatians 5:13-15).

What is our goal as Christians? To make others live their life like us or like Christ? What does creating tabloid headlines about each other say to the world? Is it loving to see a church filled with more gossip than a Jr. High girls’ slumber party? What does creating tabloid headlines do to each other in the church? Does it create unity? Does it drive people away from the church?

How can we be loving each other when all we are doing is assuming the worst of each other?

Far From Over

“Where there’s life there’s hope.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Everyone knows. You can read it on their faces. “Disappointment,” “Another number for the statistic,” or “I really thought God was going to use her” are words you could hear them say if their eyes could speak. They know. They heard. You feel so small. How could someone like you keep going?

A struggle spoken, a failing revealed, and everything crashed around you. The light you thought was there was snuffed out, and all you could grasp was the fainting smoke as you fell deeper in the darkness.

We understand what it is like for a part of our story to come to light only to shove us back into the darkness. We come forward with a failing to find forgiveness, a struggle to find a solution, and all we are given is shame, guilt, and a scarlet letter to be seared on our chest as we walk this life. Our lives feel shipwrecked, the chapter written, and our story becomes one to find its home among the great tragedies of history.

What do we do when the light of a bright future turns dark? What do we do when the struggles and the failings become our identity?

The Source of Shame

Shame is a terrible feeling. It weighs down the thoughts, emotions, and extinguishes any spiritual flame. When we speak of a struggle or a failing, shame pushes our bodies to the ground until we cannot stand up. It is like heavy rain bending our knees to its power.

Yet, where does shame come from? We came for light. Yet, we only found darkness. Why? It says in 1 John 1:5 God is light, and there is no darkness in him. The shame does not come from him. Romans 10:11 promises anyone who trusts Jesus for his light will not be put to shame.

It comes from one place: us. We are the givers of shame. When people come to us for help, what do they find? Quick prosecutors and swift executioners. We are quick to put others on trial for their struggles and their failings. Someone who is repentant wants forgiveness, yet we dish out consequences. To them it feels like their life is now over. They have to prove themselves worthy to regain our grace and acceptance.

Is that how God treats us? Think about our struggles and failings. Did God take away a future because you struggled with something or because you sinned? Or did God come to forgive you and to give you hope of a new beginning?

The Author of Our Story

God is not a God of shame. Instead, he is the one who writes our story (Psalm 139:13-16). He knew from the day you were born all the struggles and failings in your life. Yet, what did he do? His holiness drove him to do the greatest act of love in human history.

No more shame. Jesus felt it as his clothes were ripped from his body. No more guilt. Jesus felt our guilty sentences hammered into his body. Our tears over the bleakness of sin were felt by Jesus as his blood dripped like tears on the ground. This is the author of our story.

He is not quick to judge like we are. Instead, he is patient. God wants all to repent and find grace (II Peter 3:9). He sees your struggle burdening you with its heavy chains and invites you to rest (Matthew 11:28). There is no shame or guilt in the rest of God, because in Christ that condemnation no longer exists (Romans 8:1).

This God is the author of our story. He does not deal in shame like we do. He only offers us forgiveness, a new life, and a fresh start.

The Darkest Night

Yet, we still feel we shipwrecked our life. We fell into that sin. We revealed we struggle with that thing. Our future is now taken away. Is that the truth? Or is that how we treat others?

Think about a man who felt called by God to teach the Word. Yet, he falls into sin. Even though he repents, what happens? His ministry is over. Think of a woman working hard to reach the children in her church, yet she reveals a struggle. What happens? She may be removed from her position. Why? Because, she revealed a struggle.

This brings on the darkest night, and we feel all is lost. If we only kept our mouth shut.

We are like a woman who is labeled as the “Town Slut,” and she is the outcast of her people. Instead of enjoying the company of the other women at the well, she is forced to go alone in the heat of the day. All she can see is the blackness of her shame. (John 4:1-42)

We feel like a man whose mind seems to be torn apart as we struggle. We know God’s word, but we stumble over this one thing time and time again. Our accountability partners chain us up in order to protect us and other. Inside we scream as mental torture seems worse than the devices invented during medieval times. (Mark 5:1-20)

Yet, is there hope our dark night will end in a sunrise? Or will we be forced to endure the darkness or take our own lives alone in the dark?

Out of Dark Light

What is the common theme in the two stories just told? It doesn’t end in tragedy, because something happens. Jesus steps in.

He meets the woman at the well, and gives her hope. He meets the man tortured by demons, and gives him a steady mind.

He does the same for us. Our story is not over because we fell or because we struggle. Our story is over when we allow others to write it. Jeremiah 29:11 is a beautiful promise. Since God knew we would have this dark night in our journey, do we not think he can give us a bright future using it?

I Peter 1:3-9 brings light to our darkness. We have a living hope. The light is there. The words and thoughts of others may hide it, but Jesus reaches out to us, and gives us his light.

Out of darkness comes light. This light is Jesus – dawning as the night becomes the darkest.

Don’t Count Yourself Out

Yes, we know this. We have light and a future. Yet, we still count ourselves out. We allow the words and actions of others to trap us and end the story for us.

When others count us out, they are not believing that God is the God of new beginnings. When we count ourselves out, we forget who God is. Psalm 43:5 reminds us that when we feel the turmoil of our failings and our struggles, we need to hope in God.

Was Jesus done with Peter after the denial? No. John 21:15-19 proves Peter’s story was not over. Jesus restored him and used him to start the church. Our struggles and sins do not define how God will use us. He knows we are sinners. He knows we are imperfect. God finds that beautiful.

God finds beauty in the weak and the broken. Why? Because he can astound the world with it. You get to be a living transformation of grace. (I Corinthians 1:26-30). So why do we count ourselves out so fast? We may see our story as over, but God sees it as far from over.

This is Not the End

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is entrusted with the One Ring. He journeys to Mordor to destroy this burden. Yet, how many times does he think he disappoints his companions? Even at the edge of Mount Doom, he takes the ring for himself. Sam, his best friends, sits in tears as Frodo begins to walk away with the ring. However, that is not the end of the story. Even in the darkest night, light comes. Frodo fights Gollum, one of the ring’s previous owner, over the ring. Gollum falls off the edge into the flames, and the ring is destroyed. Does Sam shame Frodo for his struggle to keep the ring? No. He stands by his side as a new world begins.

It was the struggle that brought the beauty. It was the failings that brought out the appreciation of a new beginning. Sam stood by Frodo’s side, because Sam saw what would come out of this struggle. In a musical adaptation of Tolkien’s tale, when the ring is destroyed, these words are sung: (listen – start at 1:50)

Out of death, life
Out of night, day
Glory from sorrow.
Out of grief, joy.
Out of storm, come strength for tomorrow.
Far beyond feeling, destruction of pain.
Come, breath of healing, a new life will reign.

This is how God sees our struggles and failings. Out of it is going to come something amazing and something beautiful. He is the God who brings a beautiful ending in a story of tragedy. He is the one who will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). He is the one who says, “The story is far from over. Look what I am about to bring out of it.”

He shows that life can be resurrected from the dead (Romans 6:5). This is how he views our story which is filled with failings and struggles. He is going to bring life out of death, day out of night, and a new life will reign (II Corinthians 5:17).

See, the shame and guilt from others is like a trap, because we aren’t looking at the Author of the story (Proverbs 29:25).

We all struggle and we all sin. Instead of being forgotten in the darkness, God says to us, “Look up.” When we do, we see the stars. His light has not gone out.

When we feel the gaze of others trying to push us down over a struggle or a failing, look to Jesus. Look up. He is the light in the darkest night. He is the life out of death. He is the firstborn of the dead giving us that new life we crave.

We don’t have a scarlet letter. We don’t have to live controlled by the shame others put on us.

Your story is far from over. The darkness is real, and no one sees the tears you cry. Yet, don’t give up hope. Look up. See the stars. You still have life, so God is not done with you. You are far from over.

Accepting Your Story

“We are God’s productions, His compositions.” – David Jeremiah

Alarm goes off. You hit the snooze for just five more minutes. When the alarm sounds again, you sit up. The day has begun. As you get ready, you look in the mirror. You don’t look only to fix your hair or trim your beard. Instead, you see something else. You see your story. You see where it all began walking through the various chapters and twists which brought you to this moment in time. A thought flashes across your mind as if it was written in the sky, “How did I get here? Where am I headed?”

We all have those thoughts. However, we do not always deal with those thoughts. We bury them under makeup, clothing, hair style – an image. We can’t face the struggle of those thoughts, because it might shake the whole core of who we are.

Life feels like a puzzle dumped out on the floor, without a picture, and with pieces which don’t seem to go together. We study the pieces carefully. We force some together with failure, and some fit into place like a beautiful tiled floor. Yet, when company arrives or we have to face others, we hide the pieces we do not like or the pieces that do not fit. We can’t be seen as someone who does not have it all together.

Why is that? Why do we look at some pieces in our lives and think it is better if we threw them away? What makes us want to be perceived as having it all together? Are we truly accepting or throwing away the whole story God has given us?

The Myth We All Believe

A lot of us have heard the myth of the Loch Ness Monster or the legend of Big Foot. There are many people who believe in these myths, and they try to prove validity.

Most people chuckle at these myths, enjoy a good movie based on it, and continue their lives like none of it affects them. However, there is one myth all of us have chosen to believe and live by – The myth of being perfect.

Perfect body, perfect job, perfect family, perfect home, perfect self-image, perfect ______; you fill in the blank. We all want to be seen as having it all together. We may not admit it out loud, but let’s check our social media, or the topics we bring up in conversations, or the panic we get when we must attend a public gathering or have company over. We can’t deny it.

The idea of having it all together, especially for Christians, is far from reality. We take verses like Matthew 5:48 (“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”), and we run ourselves into the ground. Christ isn’t saying be seen perfect and act perfect. With this verse, he is paving the way to demonstrate we can’t be perfect, and that is why we need Jesus. Romans 3:23 states no one is perfect. Later in Romans 7:14-25, Paul (considered the model Christian) exposes his life as being one of imperfection. The only perfect he can rest on is Jesus.

We need to be the same to when it comes to our lives. We will never be perfect. We chase after shifting images and shadows when we allow ourselves to believe this myth. The only one who is good and perfect is Jesus. Our stories and our lives will not be perfect. Until we stop believing the myth of perfection we will never be able to accept our story.

The Hidden Pieces

We need to let go of the myth of perfection. This is a continual effort. But, we then can deal with the pieces of life’s puzzle we hide. These may be a struggle, a family secret, an injustice done, a major failing we tell no one – that tell-tale heart beating from the floor boards of our soul. What is it? What are we scared to bring out into the light?

The hidden pieces scare us, because they are the opposite of the myth of perfection. Do you think God is surprised by these pieces? He is the one that put them in your box to begin with (Psalm 139:13-16). He knows we are scared to bring out that one piece. He knew you would go through that. He knew you would struggle with that. He knows. The God who created the whole universe, with its wonder and awe, gave a puzzle-story to you to show off that same wonder and awe (Psalm 8). This even includes the pieces we would rather cut out of our lives, than show a living soul. Yet, God gave you that piece to be used for good (Genesis 50:19-20).

Why are we ashamed over something God gave us to use for him? I think of my own life of how Christians would say I was fearfully and wonderfully made, but would do thing which would cause me to look on my disability with shame. We do this all the time to each other. Whether it is a struggle, a desire, a body issue, or whatever, Christians put each other down if it does not make a perfect image. We don’t see each other as a body, but as contestants in a pageant measuring each other by each other (II Corinthians 10:12).

But, why? Why would God give us these pieces in the first place? He gave it to us for such a time as this so the power of God’s love can be seen through us – even the bad parts (Esther 4:14; John 9:1-3).

The Diamond In The Rough

It is difficult not to compare our pieces with other’s pieces. It is like an uncleaned diamond looking around at the beautifully polished ones dazzling onlookers with their sparkle. We see the rough in us, we see our broken pasts, we see that struggle, and we know we will not be like the other diamonds.

Stop believing that lie. Diamonds have many facets to them. Like many pieces to a puzzle, it takes all the facets to create a beautiful diamond. Yet, what we see from other Christians may be only some of their facets. Our story is like a diamond, and who we are reflects the many facets God has given us.

Before we belong to Christ, our diamonds are crusted with dirty and the light inside only reflects death and no beauty (Ephesians 2:1-3). Then the story changes. Once we belong to Christ, a new light is put in us (the light of Christ). This new light begins to shine through the dirt and grim covering each facet (Matthew 4:16; John 8:12).

Our job, even with the facets we want to cover and hide, is to figure out how to let Christ’s light shine through all the facets; not just the ones which makes us look good (Matthew 5:16).

We all have facets we do not want to show (even those who seem to sparkle the brightest). Yet, God wants to use all of us; not just the parts we want him to use. We are diamonds in the rough being transformed by Christ’s light to dazzle brighter each day. Our story is that diamond. We need to let the light shine through the places we keep hidden. It can be embarrassing, but God promises he will never put us to shame (Romans 10:11). Only people shame people. Your story is you. Your many facets make up the amazing person God made you to be. Now, we need to let that light shine through and see who God made you to be in 3-D rather than the 2-D image we want to portray.

Living Our Story With Courage And Strength

It is not easy living and accepting our stories. It is difficult accepting the pieces God has given to us. We have people in our lives who try to mold us into their version of us they want to see. They take God’s Word and read so much into to it in order to create Christian clones. This is not what God planned. Christians should never be clones of each other.

God has created the church to be like a body (I Corinthians 12:12-27). We are going to be different. Our purposes are different. Our personalities are different. If we all looked alike and talked alike, then we would probably kill each other. The world does not need Christian clones warring against the world. The world need Christians living as the individuals God made us to be showing the love of Christ as he made us to love to the world around us. We aren’t building an army for war. We are building an army of servants using the battle plans of love and truth to shine Christ to a dark world.

Our stories are different from each other. Our paths are different. God never said he would give everyone the same race (Hebrews 12:1-2). He gave us our own race he wants us to run. The course is different for each believer. Yet, we are all called to continue to look to Jesus as we run.

Accepting our stories ultimately comes down to that: looking to Jesus. He is the light in our diamond shining through our facets. He is the one who gives us our pieces and purpose. When we hide the pieces we are ashamed of, we miss out on the full potential God has given to each of us.

There will be people who will judge us, mock us, and lecture us in order to make our image more like their’s rather than Christ’s. To those people, we need to avoid them. We, instead, need to lean on those who are pushing us towards God’s potential in our lives. Those individuals see our flaws, our embarrassing facets, our struggles and encourage us to live with these facets for Christ; rather than hide them.

Inside all of us, God has put, through the Holy Spirit, a flame of courage to live for him. We want to. We want to step out our doors and be who God made us to be. Yet, we lack the strength. I am reminded of a scene from The Giver (Watch). Jonas had the courage to do what he was called to do. Yet, the Giver knew he lacked the strength to do it. We are the same with our stories. We have the courage, through the Holy Spirit, to live for Jesus through all our facets, yet we lack the strength. The strength can come from prayer and God’s Word, yet one place we skip over time and time again – the Church. The Church is to be a place where we can get the strength to courageously live (Hebrews 10:24). The Church, through God’s Word and prayer, strengthens us. We could not be who we are created to be without our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Each of our stories are different. Our paths are different. We have a different puzzle set before us. Yet, we know God ordained for us to have this story. All he asks us to do is to accept the story as his gift to be used for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). You may lose friends in the process, but it is better than not living who God made you to be.

Accept your story. Look at all the facets God has given you. Begin to let Christ’s light shine through you, the diamond in the rough, as you use each facet to bring glory to Christ and God’s love to the world.

Escaping Skid Row

“God is the only one who can make the valley of trouble a door of hope.”
– Catherine Marshall

Little Shop of Horrors

If you are into musicals, then this is a underrated classic. Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of Seymour and Audrey, trying anything, to escape the life on Skid Row. Unfortunately, Seymour discovers an alien plant which can only be fed human blood. However, the plant begins to bring in excitement and business, but Seymour must continue to feed it. What they thought was their way out of Skid Row trapped them.

Please watch the opening song before you continue reading – “Skid Row”

Where your life’s a joke
Where relationships are no go
When your life’s a mess
Where depressions’ just status quo

The lyrics to this song describe life for our characters in Skid Row. However, these lyrics represent our lives as well. When we struggle with depression it can feel like living on Skid Row as shown in Little Shop of Horrors.

As you watched, did any of the lyrics stick out to you? “I keep asking God what I’m for, and he says, ‘Gee, I don’t know.'” Depression feels like this. We feel we cannot escape and we will suffocate on the smog as we continue to pray for someone.

The Reality of Depression

Depression is real, and it is a killer. Many Christians want to say, “Since Jesus is your light, Christians don’t struggle with depression.” This sentiment slaps the face of those who can tell you it is very real as they try to find any escape out of the smog.

The struggle with depression is not due to one thing. It is not from lack of faith or not trusting God enough. These are fruits which can be birthed out of depression. It is a core reality as an individual deals with who they are, their past, and how they can’t escape. It deeply chains itself to the very heart of a person. There is no root cause that is the same for everyone who struggle.

Depression feels like you are stuck in Skid Row. You are forced to live there. You hope to escape the smog choking the life out of you. Dark shadows haunt you as you live there. No peace, no hope, no light – only ghosts whispering in your mind. When people try to help, it feels like a Christian giving a tract to a homeless person, but never helping. You scream to be rescued, but the smog chokes out your screams and blinds others to your tears. You would do anything to escape “Depression Row” – this leads to you using drugs, alcohol, porn, shopping, relationships to escape. However, when you realize these things only keep you there, you are shown one door out – death.

This is a reality for many who struggle with depression. How can we bring light and hope to clear the smog?

Where Your Life’s A Joke

This statement is a key phrase uttered over and over again to someone who is lives in “Depression Row.”

It may be said differently, but the core of someone feeling their life is a joke, failure, or burden suffocates them. As they sit with their thoughts screaming at them, a person walks by and hands them a piece of paper – written it says Jeremiah 29:11. Like a slap in the face, they crumble it up and throw it away. “How can God give me a future? It seems like his plan was to place me here.”

The verse is a great truth of Scripture. But, there is one thing missing. Jesus leads by example. He personally brought the ideals into reality (John 1:14). He helped many people experience the reality of God’s Word – healings, miracles, life lessons, his own death and resurrection. We hand those struggling with depression the ideals and say ,”Escape your cave, and head to the light!” (Sound familiar? Plato’s cave) This way of handling people is not biblical. It is based in ancient Greek philosophy.

God never wanted us to just think about the ideals and escape our caves. He brought the ideals into reality. Romans 1:20 proves to us that God wants us to experience his attributes through experiencing his creation. We were not meant to only lock ourselves away to contemplate his truths. Instead, we can see God in creation and in those around us.

“To love another person is to see the face of God,” is one of my favorite quotes from Les Miserables. When someone believes their life is a joke, help them to experience God’s purpose for them. Come along side them, pick them up by the hand, and walk beside them pointing out how they have purpose. Show them the reality of God’s truth. When they see reality, even if it is a small candle of light, the smog can begin to dissipate around them.

When You’re Life’s A Mess

This is another saying out of “Depression Row.” Lives are messed up, shipwrecked, and no hope for ever getting out of that vicious cycle. It hurts to go after hope only for it to be grabbed out from under you as you burn another bridge or shipwreck another dream.

Similar to “your life’s a joke,” this statement really hits home in the church. In the church reside many untold stories of how people have messed up their lives. However, just like with the pandemic, they wear an everyday mask so other Christians won’t look down on them. When Christians smell the blood of failures, they become like sharks ready to rip and shred.

The church today has become nothing more than the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). But the issue is, no one wants to admit they are the tax collector. This leads to many to struggle with depression. When openness is a facade for consequences, getting rid of the unwanted, a gossip platform, there is no grace and no room for true growth.

When we act like we have nothing serious in our lives or are not open about our own failures, then those struggling with depression feel their life is too much of a mess to have any hope. Would you rather trust someone who walks around like they are perfect or someone who admits their imperfections, but you see them living in grace?

Clearing the smog of depression requires openness on behalf of one trying to help. We need to be vulnerable with each other. Can we show the reality of how our own messy lives have been redeemed and transformed by the grace of God? Or are we too protective of our image?

Depression suffocates individuals as they believe their lives are a mess without hope.

Someone Show Me a Way to Get Outta Here

Many who struggle with depression do not want to stay there. But, the cry for help is not for a verse or a prayer. It is for someone to show them a way out.

Jesus took time with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and Peter to show them a way forward (John 3; John 4:1-42; John 21:1-19). Paul describes the church in I Corinthians 12:12-27 as a body. A body is made up of many parts, and when one is hurting it feels like the whole body is hurting. But what happens with someone struggling with depression? Usually, the church cuts off that part, and tells them to work on themselves before they can be reattached. “I am praying for you,” or “Here, read this passage or this book,” are all common things said. Is that acting like a body? No. The body runs to the rescue of a hurting part.

Struggling with depression and wanting help is not a cry for a piece of paper with directions. It is a cry for someone to physically show them the way out. It means we have to walk along side of them through it all. I Corinthians 13:7 declares through the fog of depression love bears all things and endures all things, and love gives hope.

God always provides a way out of darkness and into the light. He did not just give us his Word. He also gave us the church to answer those cries for help.

The Great Escape

Seymour and Audrey wanted to do anything to escape Skid Row. Those in “Depression Row” feel the same way.

There is a way out, and we need to be the guide. However, we are too caught up in our image and our perceptions to be that guide.

What did God do for us? He moved heaven and hell to come into our darkness and physically show us the way out even though it cost him his own life (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) Yet, there are times we find ourselves lost in the fog again. Yet, does God just give us a list of do’s and don’ts to get out? No. He gives us Jesus our mediator who will forgive us and restore us (1 John 2:1-2; 1 John 1:9).

Those who struggle with depression will find themselves back in Skid Row. They will again feel the smog. They will again feel haunted by voices and thoughts. Yet, since Jesus is there with you (and we are called to be like Jesus), then we need to do the same for others (Ephesians 5:1-2). It is not enough to hand them a list of verses (even though that can help). If we are the light of the world, we are also the light for those whose lights are being choked out.

God does make the valley of darkness and trouble into a door of hope; however, we must be ones who help others to that door.

Escaping Skid Row is difficult. I have been there, and have a residency card for when days are spent back. When Christians said I was not reading my Bible enough, or believing enough, I felt slapped in the face. I felt like a Christian who could only be used as a bad example. None of their words spoke hope. Yet, the ones who reached out and said, “There is always a hand reaching toward you. There is always grace available. There is always a chance to begin again,” were the ones who brought me out of the smog of depression. When I was loved on, even when I lashed out, I truly saw God’s love for me and the light began to shine. The light didn’t come through a list to follow or a book – it came through people (the church).

The burden becomes lighter when love bears all things and endures all things. If we are to be like Christ, then we should invite other to share their burdens with us and help them lighten their load.

Depression is a killer. It feels like you are trapped in Skid Row. How are you going to respond? Are you going to be like the priest who walks on the other side; throwing a tract as you do? Or are you like the Good Samaritan who bandages and takes care of another person who is struggling? Luke 10:25-37

How are you going to help people escape the Skid Row of depression?